Haley gave an uneasy growl.
"And that ar an't the worst on 't," said John; "mabbee it won't go down with the Lord, neither, when ye come to settle with Him, one o' these days, as all on us must, I reckon."
Haley walked reflectively to the other end of the boat.
"If I make pretty handsomely on one or two next gangs," he thought, "I reckon I'll stop off this yer; it's really getting dangerous." And he took out his pocket-book, and began adding over his accounts, — a process which many gentlemen besides Mr. Haley have found a specific for an uneasy conscience.
The boat swept proudly away from the shore, and all went on merrily, as before. Men talked, and loafed, and read, and smoked. Women sewed, and children played, and the boat passed on her way.
One day, when she lay to for a while at a small town in Kentucky, Haley went up into the place on a little matter of business.
Tom, whose fetters did not prevent his taking a moderate circuit, had drawn near the side of the boat, and stood listlessly gazing over the railing. After a time, he saw the trader returning, with an alert step, in company with a colored woman, bearing in her arms a young child. She was dressed quite respectably, and a colored man followed her, bringing along a small trunk. The woman came cheerfully onward, talking, as she came, with the man who bore her trunk, and so passed up the plank into the boat. The bell rung, the steamer whizzed, the engine groaned and coughed, and away swept the boat down the river.
The woman walked forward among the boxes and bales of the lower deck, and, sitting down, busied herself with chirruping to her baby.
Haley made a turn or two about the boat, and then, coming up, seated himself near her, and began saying something to her in an indifferent undertone.
Tom soon noticed a heavy cloud passing over the woman's brow; and that she answered rapidly, and with great vehemence.
"I don't believe it, — I won't believe it!" he heard her say. "You're jist a foolin with me."
"If you won't believe it, look here!" said the man, drawing out a paper; "this yer's the bill of sale, and there's your master's name to it; and I paid down good solid cash for it, too, I can tell you, — so, now!"
"I don't believe Mas'r would cheat me so; it can't be true!" said the woman, with increasing agitation.
"You can ask any of these men here, that can read writing. Here!" he said, to a man that was passing by, "jist read this yer, won't you! This yer gal won't believe me, when I tell her what 't is."
"Why, it's a bill of sale, signed by John Fosdick," said the man, "making over to you the girl Lucy and her child. It's all straight enough, for aught I see."
The woman's passionate exclamations collected a crowd around her, and the trader briefly explained to them the cause of the agitation.
"He told me that I was going down to Louisville, to hire out as cook to the same tavern where my husband works, — that's what Mas'r told me, his own self; and I can't believe he'd lie to me," said the woman.
"But he has sold you, my poor woman, there's no doubt about it," said a good-natured looking man, who had been examining the papers; "he has done it, and no mistake."
"Then it's no account talking," said the woman, suddenly growing quite calm; and, clasping her child tighter in her arms, she sat down on her box, turned her back round, and gazed listlessly into the river.
"Going to take it easy, after all!" said the trader. "Gal's got grit, I see."
The woman looked calm, as the boat went on; and a beautiful soft summer breeze passed like a compassionate spirit over her head, — the gentle breeze, that never inquires whether the brow is dusky or fair that it fans. And she saw sunshine sparkling on the water, in golden ripples, and heard gay voices, full of ease and pleasure, talking around her everywhere; but her heart lay as if a great stone had fallen on it. Her baby raised himself up against her, and stroked her cheeks with his little hands; and, springing up and down, crowing and chatting, seemed determined to arouse her. She strained him suddenly and tightly in her arms, and slowly one tear after another fell on his wondering, unconscious face; and gradually she seemed, and little by little, to grow calmer, and busied herself with tending and nursing him.
The child, a boy of ten months, was uncommonly large and strong of his age, and very vigorous in his limbs. Never, for a moment, still, he kept his mother constantly busy in holding him, and guarding his springing activity.
"That's a fine chap!" said a man, suddenly stopping opposite to him, with his hands in his pockets. "How old is he?"
"Ten months and a half," said the mother.
The man whistled to the boy, and offered him part of a stick of candy, which he eagerly grabbed at, and very soon had it in a baby's general depository, to wit, his mouth.
"Rum fellow!" said the man "Knows what's what!" and he whistled, and walked on. When he had got to the other side of the boat, he came across Haley, who was smoking on top of a pile of boxes.
The stranger produced a match, and lighted a cigar, saying, as he did so,
"Decentish kind o' wench you've got round there, stranger."
"Why, I reckon she is tol'able fair," said Haley, blowing the smoke out of his mouth.
"Taking her down south?" said the man.
Haley nodded, and smoked on.
"Plantation hand?" said the man.
"Wal," said Haley, "I'm fillin' out an order for a plantation, and I think I shall put her in. They telled me she was a good cook; and they can use her for that, or set her at the cotton-picking. She's got the right fingers for that; I looked at 'em. Sell well, either way;" and Haley resumed his cigar.
"They won't want the young 'un on the plantation," said the man.
"I shall sell him, first chance I find," said Haley, lighting another cigar.
"S'pose you'd be selling him tol'able cheap," said the stranger, mounting the pile of boxes, and sitting down comfortably.
"Don't know 'bout that," said Haley; "he's a pretty smart young 'un, straight, fat, strong; flesh as hard as a brick!"
"Very true, but then there's the bother and expense of raisin'."
"Nonsense!" said Haley; "they is raised as easy as any kind of critter there is going; they an't a bit more trouble than pups. This yer chap will be running all around, in a month."
"I've got a good place for raisin', and I thought of takin' in a little more stock," said the man. "One cook lost a young 'un last week, — got drownded in a washtub, while she was a hangin' out the clothes, — and I reckon it would be well enough to set her to raisin' this yer."